Saturday, March 25, 2006

March Mudness Half Marathon - Portland, OR

This race is held in the heart of the Hoyt Arboretum in downtown Portland. Its a great setting, as these are some of the best inner city trails I've ever seen. Its about three and a half miles from the center of the city. Next year I'll try to just run to the start from my hotel and not rent a car.

Packet pickup is at the finish line at the top of the hill in the arboretum, across from the gift shop. They were giving out beautiful green fleece jackets embroidered with the race logo on the back to all participants. Its pretty stunning - I've never quite heard of such schwag at an inexpensive race.

The start is down the hill near their Vietnam Memorial. We ran out on the road for about a half mile before turning left onto the trail. Great singletrack almost from the start. A moderate climb for most of the way. But plenty of mud on the downhills. My worn racing flats (which were sufficient at the first two races of the year) were not really suited to the surface. I probably should have known better ("March Mudness" right?), and even had my beloved Sportiva Exum Ridges in the car just in case. Things had just looked dry to me.

Anyway, I felt great, and pumped up the slopes just fine, up until the turnaround of the out and back course (where there was only water - good thing I had some gel packets). I was in sixth with the next three runners up just ahead in reeling distance. At this point it became mostly downhill and I just could not hang with my ballet slippers on. I got passed by Joe Rowley about half a mile after the turnaround. He stayed in sight but I knew I wouldn't be catching him on the downhill. My only hope was the snatches of uphill that would come up near the end.

After a few more miles I stopped at the aid station that was near the end to chug a quick Red Bull. I was passed by Jenny Knight as I stood there. On the uphill I passed her again, and as we went back downhill she passed me again, and we continued trading places on the ascents and descents. Finally with about a mile to go we came to an intersection (just after seeing the race director at one of the turns) with two ways to go. We had no idea which way to go. There were some vaguely placed tiny orange flags at ground level, but that was little help. So we shouted out "which way" until the race director walked out and clarified it. There were a few other vague intersections, but we eventually figured out that the tiny orange flags were direction markers and finished on the uphill, the only thing that let me come in a few seconds before her.

I was the second masters male in 1:50. The second place finish should earn me 39.3 Trophy Series points. There was a decent postrace feed and nice people. I'll be back next year.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Antelope Island Buffalo Run 25K - Syracuse, Utah

A race where you can run on an island park inside the Great Salt Lake, amidst buffalo and antelope. Who could resist?

I got to the race at 6am to help hand out bags for the participants (they said they need volunteers) at the entrance to the island. Probably not the strategy for optimum performance, but I race enough I need to do some volunteering to repay that karmic debt. It was quite cold: maybe 35 degrees? But sunny and clear and beautiful Most of the entrants were in by 7am so I was able to leave and drive onto the island for the start.

This race was in its first year but still had over 150 participants.

We headed out on the flats for about a mile to the trailhead. Then it was 2.5 miles from there crosscountry to the Lone Tree aid station. Many people (including myself) abandoned their cold weather gear at the aid station there. Lone Tree was part way up a small mountain known as "Elephant Head". About a mile after Lone Tree the real climbing began, and, for the first time this season, I felt like being a hill runner helped. It was a gradual climb but relentless. I felt great going up. And the downhills were not that technical (which is not my strongsuit). Just muddy, and, occasionally, snowcovered. We got close to the top and came back another trail to the aid station again. Then turned right shortly afterwards and went up another hill, over and down to the finish. I felt great the whole way. Wonderful race. I finished in 2:25 for third masters male.

I then ran out to the aid station (a little more than three miles each way) to get my hat and gloves. I'll try not to make that mistake next year. Those last six miles of slow jog, were not nearly as fun as the racem and turned the moderate 25K run into almost a marathon.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Land Between the Lakes Half Marathon - Grand Rivers, KY

I flew in to Nashville (the closest airport) with my daughter Elizabeth on Friday afternoon. We drove the hour and a half to Grand Rivers, stopping for a much missed Cracker Barrel meal: a grilled catfish dinner followed by ham, bacon, sausage, eggs, grits, biscuits, gravy, fried apples, and hashbrowns for breakfast. There are no West Coast Cracker Barrel's so this was quite a treat for us.

Steve Durbin welcome us warmly at packet pickup at Miss Scarlett's restaurant, and we repaired for the evening to the Days Inn next door, watching Crackel Barrel-acquired DVDs of Speed Racer episodes for motivation. The themesong ran through my head the next day:

"he's gaining on ya so ya better look alive!
he's busy revving up the powerful Mach Five!
and when the odds are against you and there's dangerous work to do,
you bet your life Speed Racer's gonna see it through!"

I got up at five the next morning, and drove down the mile or so to the race start. It was surprisingly warm outside and a clear sky seemed to initially belie the stormy forecast of the night before.

But, just as the crowd gathered for the start of the races, gray stormclouds lowered. The second that the horn went off, lightning struck, a thunderclap pealed and the clouds dropped rain like buckets. We're off! We went for a mile on the asphalt road and then turned off onto the trail, by which time the rain had thankfully let up. I ran alongside Dale Reicheneder onto the trail. At the aid station before it turned into single track I stopped for a drink and he pulled ahead.

The trail was beautiful single track bordering the lake. The terrain was gently
rolling with some moderate portions but nothing really steep. I felt great for
most of the race, up to mile ten where pain in my right knee kicked in again. I had some Advil with me and choked some down. I managed to keep running at a stiff legged pace. I could see Dale not too far ahead, but I just didn't have it in me to surge back up to him with my knee the way it was.

Coming out of the woods at mile 13 or so (the race is actually 14.3 miles) I heard footsteps behind me. I was in no mood for a kickfest, so I asked his age. He was 49. Bummer, I was pretty sure there were a couple of other masters runners ahead of him "But we're not doing agegroups" at this race. Not realizing that the Trail Runner Trophy Series did track agegroups if the race didn't, I let him move ahead as I gritted my teeth against my knee pain. I finished just under 2 hours, two behind
Dale, and, unfortunately, just seconds behind the third masters runner. No bonus points in this race. That will have to wait for next week.

It started to rain again. So Elizabeth and I headed off up the Western Kentucky Parkway to Louisville. It was a vaste wasteland, primarily due to not being an Interstate - hence no Cracker Barrels. Once we hit Elizabethtown, we picked up I80 to Louisville and spotted the hallowed Cracker Barrel, completing our trip to the Heartland in style.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Seneca Greenway Trail Marathon - Damascus, MD

We flew in to Dulles the night before and drove to a pre-race meal of Peking Duck at the Peking Gourmet in Falls Church where I used to live.

I left the hotel race morning at 5:30am, with the temperature at 28 degrees and the wind gusting to at least 20mph. Brutal for a now-Californian who doesn't even own a set of running tights. I hit the Beltway and got off at River Road, driving west past all the beautiful Potomac mansions and horse properties. I stopped at a Starbucks in a little strip mall about five miles off of the Beltway at 6am to get a much needed latte. I recommend this as the only available pre-race sustenance stop for those of you doing the race in the future.

As I arrived at Riley's lock (the finish area), the very helpful volunteers were handing out race applications for people to fill out in their cars to let the racers stay warm as long as possible. We piled into an unheated bus and waited for the rest of the racers until 7am or so and then drove out the 25 miles or so to Damascus Regional Park.

The racers filed out and stood out in the wicked chill with the wind gusting away, though it was a sunny, clear day. I commiserated with another racer in shorts from Florida. 115 raced surged off down a wide paved trail into the park. After a mile or so, we turned off onto a real trail. After another mile or so, there was a subtle blue marking off the right where we supposed to turn. The lead three or four guys, including Dale Reicheneder, last year's Trail Runner of the Year, continued on, missing the turnoff. Three of us behind stood there, shouting at them to come back but they didn't hear us. Now the trail was beautiful single track, if a bit flat. I felt great and now ran with the leaders for quite some time. After a couple more miles I stopped for a bio break and fell out of the lead pack of three or four guys (the cold distracted me out of my normal prerace ritual). I quickly dropped back into a trailing pack of another three guys. We ran at 7 minute pace (too fast no doubt though I felt great at the time) for another four miles. Around mile 7 Dale appeared in Santa Monica Trail Runners windbreaker and passed our group. I sped up to run with him for half a mile or so. He had apparently run three miles off course. I dropped back off of Dale and ran with the same secondary pack for a while.

Around mile nine we dropped had a to go down some rocks into a stream and back up another set of rocks. I stumbled and twisted my ankle slights but strained my knee severely, presumably the MCL I tore a few years ago. I spent the next mile hobbling slowly to the rest stop around mile 10. It was all I could do to just walk and I howled as I hobbled. At the aid station, I seriously considered begging a ride home. But I did not fly out to DC to DNF. I was planning a celebratory dinner afterwards (my favorite restaurant - the Inn at Little Washington), and I did not want to be sitting there contemplating my failure of will all evening.

Instead I begged for some ibuprofen. They only had Tylenol - which I took but I knew would not help. After chugging some Mountain Dew I limped off back down the trail (running was still out of the question). Finally a runner passed and, seeing me limping, asked if he could help. "Well some Vitamin I would be great since they didn't have it at the aid station". He produced the magic pills and I took a couple. After another half mile of limping I gingerly started hobble running. It was excruciating and I howled even louder in the empty forest. Finally I came to another aid station at mile 12. Here they actually had some Advil so I took a couple more pills. And I begged an Ace bandage off of them as well for my knee. AFter that I was able to maintain a consistent hobble run for another four miles or so.

Finally, as I ran stifflegged along a wooded ridge, signs started appearing "Sugarland Three Miles". SugarLand? What is SugarLand? We're in the middle of nowhere. What could SugarLand be? An amusement park? A strip club? A farm? "SugarLand 2 1/2 miles". Wow, thats aggressive advertising! Who came out here on the trails to advertise this? Finally after "SugarLand - 2 Miles", the signs sprouted up with increasing frequency. "Atkins Shmatkins - You Need Carbs!", "Forget Fiber - We Want Sugar!". After "Almost to Sugarland - 1 Mile" and "SugarLand - Just 13/28 Mile More", the real sell began "Fat Free Sugar!", then more improbably "Sugar Free Sugar!", "Sugar - Your Body Thanks You Now and Your Dentist Will Thank You Later", and finally "You Need Energy - Welcome to Sugarland!" as the trail opened onto a parking lot with a handful of cars parked. There were a bunch of kids at an aid station stocked with more high glycemic confections than any race I've ever seen. There were Twizzlers, M&Ms, peanut M&Ms, Girl Scout Cookies, heart shaped, candy coated marshmallows, and other treats too numerous to mention. I pounded down six TagAlongs and, more importantly, scored a couple magic ibuprofen candies. Running away from the station one last sign "Now Leaving SugarLand - InsulinLand Five Minutes Ahead".

Back on the trail it was another couple of flat wooded miles to a small water stop by the next intersection. Then the another seven miles up and down slight inclines until we emerged from the trail finally at what was mile 26 and we should have been done. Ah, but it was not to be. Instead we were told that we had "just a long two miles" to the finish. The volunteers had heard about my ibuprofen abuse and I couldn't get an additional fix out of them. On the bright side the stop was replete with chili, salted potatoes, coffee, and sodas. I pounded some more Mountain Dew and some potatoes and hobbled up the hill. The last two miles (really it seemed more like three) were quite hilly, which I would ordinarily love, but definitely exacerbated my now even more agonized knee. We emerged out onto the road across from the park where the finish and ran the last half mile on asphalt to the actual finish line.

I finished in a dreadful 5:29 (although the winner was around four hours so perhaps not as bad as I would think) and 32nd overall. Nevertheless, I was exhilarated by finishing and fighting through the pain. I felt like if I could make it through that accident I could take whatever the season has in store for me. I ate heartily at the Inn at Little Washington that evening, feeling like its exquisite cuisine was a well earned indulgence.